Has school ended yet?!

We are in the last dregs of the school year here in Dublin.  I feel like we are stumbling, limping, across the finish line – which isn’t until Tuesday, June 30th.  I must be living in a warped zone where time stands still.   This week lasted at least 8364 days.

Before I had children, also known as my “expert parent” days, I expected that I wouldn’t fall into the “End-of-School-year-apathy” that I saw in other parents.  “Learning is fun!  Why not enjoy it in the spring as well as the fall?! It’s just a few more weeks!”  Ha.  Now, because God has a sense of humor, I live in a country that goes another month past my American counterparts.  For all of May and June, I see social media posts about “end of school parties” and summer vacations, as we slog on through the rain.  What is even stranger is that only primary schools go through the end of June.  That’s right my friends, secondary school (7th-12th grade, appx), gets out at the end of May.  Is this some sort of cruel joke?  What about parents with a child in primary school and a child in secondary school?  Absolutely ridiculous. So to add to my lack of motivation and energy, I drive right by an empty secondary school that seems to mock me on each school run.

Isaac is down to one uniform, and even that is stretching it a bit.  He has one faded blue uniform polo, and a pair of navy shorts.  His school uniform is a blue polo, navy sweatpants/tracksuit pants, and a navy blue sweatshirt with the school crest on it.  Well, the weather has just begun to warm up (woo hoo!  70 degreess baby!) and Isaac wants to wear shorts to school.  Technically the school sells uniform shorts, but who is going to buy those for literally 10 days of wear.  Not this cheap parent!  I found a pair of navy shorts from last summer that still fit and called it good. (The picture from above was taken from a rare “No Uniform Day”, where Isaac wanted to wear his new Texas sweatshirt Brad picked up at the Co-op in Austin.  True Texas boy right there!)

Taking a look around the school yard today, I’m not the only one improvising their way through the end of school.  I’m looking at you, parent with the child that wore the Dublin GAA jersey to school today.  The jersey is light blue and navy, and so are the school colors.  Sounds like a win to me!  Or the dubious school lunches we are packing.  Raisins and gummies definitely count as fruit! Or those of us that so dutifully got our children to school well before the 8:50 morning bell in the fall, are now racing into class just before they close the gates.  Not exactly an early start.  Do you know how hard it is to get kids to go to sleep when the sun doesn’t set until 10, and it is light until midnight?! Ahh summer solstice, I’ve never been happier to see you come and go.

I feel like I am living in Jen Hatmaker’s epic post from two years ago, where she claims that she is the “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever”.  I’m right there with her.

Solidarity my friends. 3 more days.  I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m thinking, “Is it time for school to start again?”

 

Our experience with an au pair

One of the challenging things about becoming an expat is how often I have to eat my words, “I would never…”  When you’re  thrown into a situation you really never expected, no amount of planning can account for all differences in culture and environment.  Some examples in my life include:

I would never have a baby in another country.

I would never fly with an infant younger than a month.  What sort of parent does that?

I would never be the stay-at-home parent.  I have two masters degrees. NO thank you!

And the latest one to bite the dust:

I would never have an au pair live with us.  That’s just too awkward.

A few weeks ago, we had a chance to host a temporary au pair in our home for 12 days.  A friend of mine was looking for someone to take the au pair she had originally contracted with.  Her family was going out of town, and she didn’t need the au pair as expected.  We decided this was a great time to try out an au pair and see how it might work for our family.  Au Pairs aren’t really common in the US, but they are very common in Ireland. There are all sorts of au-pair arrangements: live-in, live-out, temporary, full-time…  One program for temporary au pairs is called Workaway, also known as a “Cultural Exchange Volunteer”.  In this arrangement, in exchange for room and board, you can contract with an individual to work in your home for 4-5 hours per day.  They could do housecleaning, cooking, child minding, or other forms of light manual labor.

I was really nervous about the whole idea, even though I am the one who volunteered to host her!  We spoke with her several times and exchanged numerous emails.  I know that constantly watching 3 young kids can be mentally and physically exhausting.  What if she didn’t like kids?  What if it was too stressful for her, or we didn’t have good communication? What if all she wanted was a free place to sleep while she did some sightseeing?  What if she stayed out late partying every night?  What if I met her and decided I didn’t trust her?

In reality, all my fears were overblown.  Jenny stayed with us for 12 days, and it was AMAZING.  We picked up Jenny from the train station, and from the start, she was outgoing, kind, fun, and responsible.  She had just turned 25, graduated from university, and completed an internship.  She decided to do a Workaway trip to practice her English, and see Ireland, before starting her full-time job back in Germany.  She played with the kids, helped out around the house, and was genuinely interested in how we came to living in Ireland.  She watched the kids for 4 hours a day, while I worked.  One day, she took the kids to a museum in town.  She even watched the kids on Saturday night so Brad and I could sneak away for a date, and then came to church with us the next morning.  The rest of the time, she did sightseeing in and around Dublin.  We gave her a train/bus card (Leap card), so she could get around on public transit.

I was nervous that it might be awkward having someone else living with us, but we have a spare bedroom, and it really worked out well.  Her English was great, and more importantly, she jumped right in to our family.  It was wonderful to have someone dependable at home.  One of my friends described having an au pair was like having a wife, in that there was always someone at home to watch the kids, move laundry, load the dishwasher, and all the other little things that can fall by the wayside, especially when life gets busy. We will definitely consider an au pair as a viable option for childcare in the future.   Do you think you would consider an au pair, if you had the opportunity?

 

Oh, the picture above was taken at one of our favourite coffee shops in Dublin, and Liesl is at that stage where she gives a fake grin in every picture…

School lunches in Ireland

A few weeks back, I wrote about school in Ireland and alluded to the differences in the lunch system between here and the US.  The few months leading up to Isaac starting school, I envisioned that Isaac would eat lunch in the cafeteria, just like I did in the US.  In fact, when I went to register him for school, it didn’t even occur to me to ask about lunches.  Of course he would either bring his lunch or eat at school – in the cafeteria!  Except…not.  Here in Ireland, most schools do not have a cafeteria, (also known as a canteen).  Instead, all students bring their lunch and eat in the classroom, at their desks. They can have a small portion of their lunch during their first break, and the rest during their lunch break.

The lunch must not need refrigeration, and there is no access to a microwave or kettle to heat up food.  Moreover, there are specific requirements for what can and cannot be included in the lunch.  Items not allowed include:

[checklist icon=”fa-times” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Nuts of any type, including peanut butter[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Sweets, including candy, cookies/biscuits, sweet buns, cakes, and chocolate[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Chips or crisps – this includes any similar “foil wrapped products like popcorn or pretzels[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]No fizzy (carbonated) drinks, including fruit-based drinks[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Juice is discouraged[/li_item]
[/checklist]

What is most interesting to me is that this policy is enforced every day. All year.  As frustrating as it is that we don’t have another option except to pack a lunch for Isaac, I really do like that the school reinforces the eating habits we have established at home.  Easy on the sweets and junk food.  No carbonated drinks. Focus on whole foods.  It also begs the question – what exactly do you pack in your child’s lunch besides ham and cheese, that fits within these guidelines?  For someone who ate peanut butter and jam growing up, this is very challenging! After trial and error – here is what we have come up with for Isaac’s lunch:

[checklist icon=”fa-cutlery” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Ham and cheese[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Cream cheese and jam[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Egg salad or egg mayo[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Shredded carrot, shredded cheddar, and cream cheese sandwich[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Quesadillas[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Hamburger, turkey burger, or lentil burger (leftovers)[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Pitas, hummus and tzatziki[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Leftover fried rice[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Leftover frittata[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Mini Quiches[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]And Isaac’s favorite – Runzas, a stuffed pastry with ground beef and cabbage. Definitely related to Brad for this one![/li_item]
[/checklist]

I usually include some chopped veggies such as carrot sticks, bell pepper sticks, cucumber or celery, along with fruit or yogurt.  He also takes a water bottle.  Obviously not every school has this policy.  I know of several schools that provide hot lunches, and schools in economically disadvantaged areas have also started breakfast clubs to ensure students have the opportunity to eat breakfast.  In general, parents do not come to school and eat lunch with their child, or bring fast food to share with their child.  The school day is much shorter anyway, so if I want to take Isaac to McDonald’s, I can do that after I collect him at 1:30.

School lunches in Ireland – yet another thing that I didn’t expect to be different, but we have grown to like it anyway.

What to do in Dublin with Kids

Planning a trip to Dublin in the future?  At first the city does not seem to be particularly kid-friendly, but there are plenty of fun activities for the young, and young at heart!

Natural History Museum: Free, near Merrion Square

Natural History Museum Moose

This museum is affectionately called the “dead zoo”.  It has a huge collection of taxidermy animals from all over the world.  Most of the animals are in the large gallery upstairs.  Just park your stroller in the entryway (with all the other strollers) and climb the stairs to the second floor.  It also has clean bathrooms and changing tables, and since the museum is free, there is nothing stopping you from going in just to use the bathroom.

Merrion Square:

One of the five Georgian Squares in Dublin.  Great place for a picnic. It has a brand new playground, the ‘Giant’s Garden’, based on Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Selfless Giant”.  There are also beautiful planters of flowers and plants from around Ireland all over the square.  The tulips in the late spring are AMAZING! On Sundays, there is an art show around the perimeter of the square.  On Thursdays during the summer, there is a lunchtime market.

National Archaeology Museum:  Free, on Kildare Street.

This is a great museum with lots of interesting stuff to look at.  My kids love this museum – there is a Viking boat, mummified remains of people found in bogs, and lots of interesting items from the prehistoric through medieval periods.

St. Stephen’s Green

St Stephen's Green

Another excellent example of the Dublin Georgian Squares.  It is in the centre of town, making it a convenient midday picnic stop.  The fabulous playground has spaces for little and big kids, and a weatherproof surface, so you can go there even if it recently rained.  There are ducks and swans to feed as well.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral is an amazing church to tour.  You have to pay for admission, but it’s free for kids. Among other things, you can learn about the Irish phrase to “chance your arm”. Fun Fact: The Catholic Cathedral in Dublin is called the St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral.  “Pro”, as in, provisional.  Apparently the Catholics are still hoping the Anglicans will return St. Patrick’s to them at some point!  There is a beautiful small park next to the church with a new playground, and on the weekends, there is almost always an ice cream vendor in the park.

For families with older kids and teenagers:

In addition to the above activities, these sights are great for older kids.

Book of Kells & Trinity College

Trinity College is definitely on the “must see” list for any Dublin trip.  The Book of Kells is a wonderful exhibit.  You can take the walking tour of Trinity College, which includes your admission to the book of Kells.  Kids are free.  (You can just buy your ticket to see the book, but I think the tour is worth the extra cost.) The tour is a bunch of walking, then standing and listening.  It’s a great tour – but little kids will tire of it quickly.  Older kids will love The Old Library at the end of the Book of Kells exhibit.  It looks like it was taken straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Even if you skip the tour and the Book of Kells, the campus is still open for you to walk around if you wish.

Grafton Street

Worth a stroll.  You can walk from the corner of Trinity College to St. Stephen’s Green on Grafton Street.  There are usually plenty of street performers and musicians.  There is also a mediocre McDonalds and Burger King, in case you have tired of pub grub.

Dublinia & Christchurch Cathedral

Dublinia is an interactive museum about Viking and Medieval Ireland.   Dublinia is lot of fun for kids, especially those ages 7-12.  I recommend buying the combo ticket for Dublinia and Christchurch Cathedral, which is attached via an enclosed bridge. (See photo above!)

Guinness Storehouse Tour

This is pricey, but a great tour of what makes Guinness the iconic beer (and brand) it is today. The tour includes admission to an enclosed, rooftop bar (serving Guinness and non-alcoholic beverages) with 360-degree views of Dublin.  A great stop for older kids or teenagers.  Adults can even learn how to pour their own pint at the tap.